HC Deb 26 February 1957 vol 565 cc1090-111
Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I beg to move, in page 9, line 10, to leave out subsection (3).

The Bill does a very good job in tidying up anomalies, but it is unfortunate that it does not tidy up anomalies in the position of clergy, a position in which there are many anomalies. It is particularly unfortunate that it does not deal with this problem, because when we had an inquiry into the MacManaway case, a Select Committee reported that it did not think that it was right to deal with that problem in isolation, and said that it should be considered when the general question was considered. Unfortunately, when the Select Committee considered the matter, I did not then have support for going ahead with it.

The Chairman

It might be convenient if with the Amendment we discussed that in Schedule 4, page 28, line 38, at the end to insert:

41 Geo. 3, c. 63 The House of (Clergy Disqualification) Act, 1801. The Whole Act.
Mr. Parker

Yes, Sir Charles.

The position of Anglican clergy is very anomalous indeed. Anglican clergymen in England and Ireland are not allowed to stand for Parliament. The position in Scotland is a little doubtful, but the Welsh Church Act, 1914, definitely allows an Anglican clergyman in Wales to stand for Parliament, if he so desires. An Anglican clergyman who came to this country from another part of the Commonwealth would be allowed to stand. Roman Catholic clergy are disqualified, a survival of the anti-Catholic Acts of the past, that particular provision not having been repealed when Catholics generally were allowed in the House.

It would be much better to remove all these disqualifications and put all Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy into exactly the same position as that of Nonconformist clergy. We have in the House at present very useful Members who are clergymen of various denominations, but not of the Church of England and not of the Church of Rome. I am not particularly anxious to have an abnormal flood of clergymen entering the House, but there should be equity between all sects in this matter. The time has now come for the removal of all these anomalies and the repeal of laws against clergymen of the Church of England and of the Church of Rome entering the House, if they so desire.

Certain Churches would probably make rules saying that in certain circumstances their clergy should not come to the House. They are perfectly entitled to do that. The Church of Rome would probably take that very line, but this matter should be left to the Churches themselves to decide. If they do not want their clergy or officers to sit in the House, they should make that rule. It should not be a rule made in the House.

I therefore suggest that we should repeal those laws which ban clergy from sitting the House. We should make the position of all sects equal and remove what, for the Church of England, is a particularly silly anomaly, because some of its clergy from some countries are entitled to stand, while others from other countries are not.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)

Would it not be right to say that there has been no demand so far from the Church of Rome for a remedy of the anomaly about which my hon. Friend is speaking?

Mr. Parker

When an inquiry was held about ten or twelve years ago evidence was given by Roman Catholics that they would like the law repealed and that then they would make their own rules to govern a matter which they thought should be dealt with under their own laws, rather than that they should be dictated to by outside bodies. The same may apply to other sects.

There is an anomaly which may well cause trouble in the future with regard to Southern Ireland. When the Church of Ireland was disestablished Gladstone forgot to include a Clause removing disqualification on Church of Ireland clergy for the United Kingdom Parliament. As a result of the MacManaway inquiry we have held that that applies to Northern Ireland. What would be the position of a citizen of Eire who was a clergyman in Southern Ireland and who came to the United Kingdom and was adopted as a candidate for Parliament? That is an anomaly which may arise in the future. I hope that we can repeal all this legislation and complete the good work.

Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)

Would it be in order, Sir Charles, if we discussed the next Amendment on the Order Paper in my name, in page 9, line 14, at the end to add: except in so far as the repeal of subsection (4) of section two of the Welsh Church Act, 1914, shall affect them". Reference has been made to the Welsh Church by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker).

The Chairman

I had intended to call that Amendment separately, but if the Committee wish to discuss it with the other Amendment that will be in order.

Mr. Freeth

Then if I may address myself to that Amendment—

The Chairman

The hon. Member will understand that if his Amendment is discussed in this way, he cannot expect a Division on it in due course.

Mr. Freeth

I understand, Sir Charles, and doubtless the Government will be relieved.

The first thing I wish to deal with is whether the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dagenham achieves the object he has in mind, whether, if subsection (3) is omitted from the Bill, it will clear up the anomalies which, we all admit, exist. It appears to me that it would leave the present position unchanged and merely bring greater doubt into the situation. I agree with the hon. Member that while we are dealing with the disqualification of the holders of certain offices from becoming Members of the House of Commons, we ought, at the same time, to go into the question of whether certain ministers of religion can or cannot sit in this House. I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General that it will not be completing the job if we leave this very important aspect of the problem untouched by the provisions of the Bill.

I agree with the hon. Member for Dagenham that, basically, we want to have all ministers eligible, or no ministers eligible to sit in the House of Commons. I have spent a little time thinking about this matter. Indeed, for some years prior to my having an ambition to sit in this House I had an ambition to become a priest of the Church of England. When I was in hospital for some time I did a certain amount of reading round the subject of ordination. I was most intrigued about the question of priests and deacons of the Church of England: why they might or might not sit as Members of the House of Commons.

The position of priests and deacons of the Church of England is perfectly clear. They cannot sit in this House. There are three basic reasons, or at any rate, I think there have been three strands to the argument for depriving them of the right to offer themselves for election. The first is that the Church as such is represented by the spiritual peers in another place. The second and very valid tradition is that the clergy of the Church of England, as of the Established Church of Scotland, are represented by their own Convocations which, I believe, in times past actually voted as regards taxation on behalf of the clergy in place of Parliament. Thirdly, there was the very important question whether ministers of the Gospel should consider themselves, or should be considered, eligible to take part in the difficult and often contentious business of trying to govern the country.

That point was best put in the Report of the Lords of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the case of Mr. MacManaway. I should like to quote from that Report: Another and, perhaps a wider consideration dwelt upon the nature of the sacred calling itself, and invoked the ecclesiastical rather than the constitutional law. Was it compatible with the spiritual office to which the priest or deacon was irrevocably dedicated that he should devote himself to such mundane activities as were appropriate to a member of the House of Commons? Canon LXXVI, which had been adopted in the year 1603, had laid it down that 'no man being admitted Deacon or Minister shall voluntarily relinquish the same, nor afterwards use himself as a layman': and it is a matter of some significance that when Sir James Craddock was excluded from the Commons in 1661, the ground assigned was not that he had or might have a voice in Convocation, the ground assigned in the two previous cases, but that he was in Holy Orders and 'so disabled to sit'. The Report goes on to point out that this attitude towards ministers of the Gospel was apparently also held in Scotland prior to the Act of Union, because in 1700 the Parliament of Scotland is recorded to have accepted that a Mr. William Higgins had vacated his seat as Commissioner for the Burgh of Linlithgow 'upon his being now an actual minister of the Gospel'. I think it important for us to start at the beginning with the matter of principle. Do we or do we not believe, by and large, that people called as ministers of the Gospel in any religious denomination whatever are to be encouraged to take an active part in what the Report of their Lordships called such mundane activities as were appropriate to a Member of the House of Commons"? I submit that it is a bad thing for that to happen. I have always believed that a minister of the Gospel, no matter to what denomination he may happen to belong, is doing a disservice to religion when he takes an active part in party politics, which, today, means politics in the sense of sitting in this House.

Many hon. Members have their spiritual directors and consult them from time to time upon various aspects of public policy or particular aspects of what may or may not be done by a Government or Opposition, or in regard to Private Members' Bills and the like. It would be extraordinarily difficult to have one's conscience treated by a minister who had publicly pronounced himself in favour of a course of action which might be a course of action with which one's own party did not wish one to be associated. I think it would be very difficult for a Conservative to have a spiritual director who had declared himself to be a supporter of Socialist policy, sitting on the Socialist benches, and perhaps from time to time engaged in the somewhat heated exchanges which, at times of great crisis, occur in this House, and rightly occur, but which do not always produce the most charitable feelings between both sides of this House.

I think it would be an unfortunate thing if ministers of religion in general came to associate themselves more closely than they do now with party politics, because their job is to look after the moral tone, the moral welfare and the moral climate of the country, and it is, I think, essential that they should not act as I believe the late Queen Victoria wished them to do and, in general, support Her Majesty's Government, but rather that they should stand aside from Her Majesty's Government and from Her Majesty's Opposition and thereby be able the more authoritatively and the more dispassionately, and thereby the more rightly, to give judgment upon the moral worth of any particular act of the Government or the Opposition.

I would, therefore, hope that we would not accept into this House of Parliament ministers of religion in general. In saying that, I am certainly not attacking, or in any way casting any doubts upon, the contribution which ministers of various denominations have made to our debates in the past. Whether that point he accepted or not by hon. Members of the Committee, I would suggest that the present situation really is unjust, if not unworkable. The lawful situation, as I understand, began with the House of Commons (Disqualifications) Act, 1801, and the wording of that Act is: No person having been ordained to the office of priest or deacon or being a minister of the Church of Scotland is or shall be capable of being elected to serve in Parliament as a Member of the House of Commons. The words "ordained to the office of priest or deacon" have been held to have various meanings, or have been held to be narrow or wide in scope. The early judgments and the opinions of learned lawyers today, and certainly the whole weight of the canon law of the Church of England, have always been held to imply that all priests and deacons who have been legally and properly ordained by an episcopal authority recognised by the Church of England under the Act of Uniformity, and in accordance with any other Measures which the Church Assembly might have presented to this House and been passed by it, are excluded, although there is the awkward problem of the minor orders of the Church of Rome and one would like also to mention the branch of the Old Catholic Church of Poland and Germany and the Christ Catholics of Switzerland.

When we come to the Church of Ireland, it needed a great many legal difficulties to decide whether the ecclesiastical law should prevail, and whether in fact, these words in the Act of 1801 apply in the ecclesiastical sense or only in the sense of a person who was ordained within the ambit of the legally established church of this country. The hon. Member for Dagenham gave it as his opinion that members of the colonial branches of the Anglican Church could sit in this House. I have always understood that they could not. I do not know which of us is right, but the position ought to be laid down in clarity. One ought not to treat a clergyman who happened to have held his last benefice in the Church in Wales separately from a properly ordained priest who happened to have held his last benefice in Ireland or in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Mr. David Lloyd George's Welsh Church Act makes a specific exception of the priests and deacons of the Church of Wales. At the time when it was disestablished, we are told that Mr. Gladstone would have done the same with regard to the Church of Ireland, but that he overlooked the principle. I wonder whether Mr. Gladstone did overlook it, because he was a very great Churchman. He knew his canon law and had a very high opinion as to the position of clerics in the community. I am not at all sure that the reason why Mr. Gladstone did not produce in the Act disestablishing the Church of Ireland a parallel section to Section 2 (4) of Mr. Lloyd George's Act of 1914 was because he did not want to do so, not because he overlooked it.

I think that it is most unfortunate that these episcopally ordained priests and deacons who happen to have held their last benefices in the Church in Wales should be eligible to enter this House, while priests and deacons of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland definitely are not, and while priests and deacons of Anglican communions overseas appear to be in the position of not knowing whether, in fact, they have the right to sit or do not have that right.

6.15 p.m.

My Amendment differs from the proposal of the hon. Member for Dagenham, but, at any rate, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will admit that my Amendment will remove one anomaly, namely, that concerning clergy of the Church in Wales. It would reverse the position in that respect, but I very much doubt whether the hon. Gentleman's Amendment will clarify the position. While I am willing to argue the principle whether clerics should or should not have the right to sit in this House, I would suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General that it is, in fact, quite unjust that certain Anglicans have the right to sit in the House of Commons when certain others have not, and that the right of certain others should be left in doubt. Again, I think it is quite wrong that there should be certain Presbyterian bodies, the ministers of which have a right to sit in the House of Commons, apparently, while certain others have not.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend, or my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary, if he is replying, will give an undertaking that the Government, between now and Report stage, will look into the whole question of the right of clerics, particularly of the Anglican communion, and I speak as an Anglican, to sit in this honourable House.

Mr. James H. Hoy (Leith)

I want to ask how this Amendment would affect clergy of the Church in Scotland? I am glad to see the Secretary of State for Scotland, because I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not like the learned Attorney-General or the Under-Secretary to reply on behalf of Scotland on this issue.

There are certain Ministers of the Church of Scotland who are, of course, permitted to come to this House, and some have, in fact, been Members. One thinks immediately of the Reverend James Barr, who was a Member for very many years. I also know that there is a rule within the Church itself which prevents ministers of the Church of Scotland, after they have come to this House, having stood for Parliament, going back to the ministry again. They have to apply, if my information is correct, to the General Assembly of the Church to be readmitted to the Ministry.

I think that this would be an occasion on which the position might be made quite clear by the Secretary of State for Scotland, so that we would know how this Amendment would affect the Church in Scotland.

Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)

I listened with very great interest to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth). There are one or two points about which I disagree with him. The hon. Member began by stating what might be called the standard reasons for not having a clergyman of the Church of England as a Member of the House of Commons. He introduced the fact that the bishops sit in another place and spoke of the work of the Convocation of the Church. In both those respects the Church of England and its clergy are able to express themselves on public matters. That argument does not seem to concern the point at issue, which is whether a particular constituency shall be free to have as its Member of Parliament a member of the Church of England or the Church of Rome, who is in priestly or deaconal orders.

The third point is the nub of the whole matter: is there some incompatibility between the activities of the House of Commons and the priestly activities of a clergyman of the Church? That is an important question, upon which it is legitimate to take different points of view. I should be very surprised, looking over the country with its variety of beliefs and points of view, and I should be disappointed, if no one ever held strongly that clergymen should not concern themselves with the matters with which we concern ourselves here. I should be equally disappointed and surprised if the opposite point of view were not also widely held. Both points of view can be held by reasonable people.

Where I differ from the hon. Gentleman is on whether the decision between those points of view should be made here. The decision should be made in the communions to which the priests and deacons belong. We would be doing the best service to this country in not taking that kind of decision, which carries with it many difficulties. It seems anomalous that clergymen of one Church are able to sit here while clergymen from another Church with perhaps the same doctrines cannot do so. They may be in different organisations of the same Church, or one may be in a unit of the same Church overseas, perhaps just across the English Channel. The doctrines in each case are exactly the same, but the eligibility to sit in the House of Commons is different.

In addition, there are wide varieties in individual belief, apart from the priests of the two Churches that are mainly concerned in this matter. Perhaps I should say three Churches, after what my hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) has just said. In some religious communities the actual members take the same point of view. There are members of numerically small sects—for whom I have the very greatest respect—who say, for instance, that they do not take part in elections of Members of the House of Commons or of local councils. I disagree with them. They say, "We are in the world, but not of it".

The point of view that a clergyman of a particular communion should not sit in the House of Commons is an extension or a different shade of the point of view that there are incompatibilities between what we do here and the doctrines held by the individuals concerned. I do not know where to draw the line, but wherever it is drawn it ought not to be drawn in the House of Commons. We ought to leave the decision in matters of this sort to the communions concerned. In point of fact, in so leaving it, we would do something for our own good. One of the great temptations for the House of Commons is to make decisions on things on which it ought not to make decisions at all. We clutter up our business with far too many things which should not be our concern. I should like to see this matter left to the communions.

Mr. Wigg

My approach to this matter is a little different from that of hon. Members who have already spoken. May I, first, congratulate the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) on having had such a very short illness. I gathered from him that his studies in this matter started when he was ill. They obviously did not take him very far, so I presume that his illness was measles, or a childish complaint of that kind. I congratulate him. If he had gone into the situation as it existed in 1801 it would have certainly taken him beyond the mere study of the Act of 1801.

What were the circumstances of the time? The Reverend Horne Tooke, who started his life with another name and profession, entered the Church. Eventually, after two or three tries, he was elected for Old Sarum. When he was elected, on the day he took the oath a noble Lord sitting in the House warned him that after the period of 14 days he would try to get the Reverend Home Tooke unseated. He got him unseated, but not because there was any spiritual disability. Mr. Chancellor Addington, who could sit without great difficulty on the existing Front Bench and knew all the tricks of the trade, was determined to get Horne Tooke out.

I have a copy of the proceedings of that time. Mr. Chancellor Addington said that the reason they should get rid of the Reverend Home Tooke and any other clergyman was because the independence and purity of the House of Commons might be impaired and diminished. He wanted Horne Tooke out of the House not because Horne Tooke was an ordained minister of the Church of England, but because Home Tooke had secured election to further the cause of political reform. The Tory Party and the bench of bishops in another place have always marched hand in hand in favour of the Establishment. Every reactionary Measure in the last hundred years has been supported without exception by the bench of bishops.

The logic chopping that enables persons to judge the merits of the Horne Tooke case and of the disabilities imposed upon clergymen of the Church of England and of other denominations, and to link that up with some spiritual limitation, is completely beyond me. In 1801 this was a question of political expediency.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Freeth

Will the hon. Gentleman not admit that whatever may have been the circumstances which led hon. Members in 1801 to pass this Act, one was that there was a doubt whether the clergyman in question had or had not the right to sit in the House, since it had been ruled in the seventeenth century, on no fewer than four occasions, that a clergyman of the Church of England could not sit in the House? I believe that there had been earlier cases in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Mr. Wigg

From my studies of the circumstances, it appears to me that from 1664 onwards there had been a number of cases of clergymen sitting in the House, but, as Mr. Chancellor Addington said, they had not described themselves as clerks of holy orders. As I understand, the case of Mr. Rushworth was fought to decide the issue, but it was discovered that he was a deacon and was not ordained. The Rushworth case could, therefore, be set on one side. My submission is that the case of Horne Tooke was decided by Mr. Chancellor Addington and the Government of the time not on the merits of whether the Reverend Horne Tooke, as an ordained priest, should sit in the House, but because it was politically inconvenient that he should come here as an advocate of reform. That seems to me to be completely substantiated and I am surprised that anyone should challenge that point of view.

Nevertheless, I am not looking at the matter from the angle of the Reverend Horne Tooke or of the Reverend Horne Tookes of today. I am not looking at it from the point of view of the Church of England or of the Church of Rome. Each community should exercise its own discipline. It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) said, that the Catholic Church resents the disability, but that if the disability were removed Catholic priests would not sit in the House. Equally, I am sure that if the House were wise today and repealed the 1801 Act and the subsection of Clause 15 which we are now debating, there would not be a flood of Church of England clergymen into the House.

The nub of the argument was put by Professor Thobold Rodgers, who is the only person I can find who wrote on Home Tooke with any authority. He said that Probably, not one clergyman in ten thousand cares a jot for Horne Tooke's Act; probably not one in a thousand knows of its existence but he knows, with greater or less distinctness, that the statute law of the land has made him a separate civil order, a particular caste. That is the point to which I object. Obviously, if a priest of the Church of England wants to get round the difficulty, he can do so very simply. All that a priest of the Church of England need do if he wishes to become a candidate for the House is to go to Wales, spend a few days there and become a curate. It seems to me a very high price to pay to have to spend a few days in Wales, but some are prepared to pay it. Once he is a curate in Wales he can become a candidate for the House.

I have been concerned about this matter ever since I read the first House of Commons Disqualification Bill, which the then Leader of the House sought to slip through as a second Order on a Friday afternoon. I beg hon. Members to look at this problem for a moment and at least to accept my sincerity. What we are engaged in is the high process of democracy. We are deciding not only for ourselves; we may even be deciding whether democracy shall survive. May I remind hon. Members—and I have done this before—that democracy was not born in the Temple, it was not born among the lawyers and it was not born among men with tidy minds. It was born in the market place, in the Agora, in the clash of opinion.

What we want in the House is men like John Ball, men whose guts are on fire, who feel with passion, not merely Lobby fodder who will walk through the Lobbies and salute the Whip. At present, whether we like it or not, democracy in this country is not in a healthy state. It is very difficult indeed to find the radical tradition, which I believe has sustained us for the last three hundred years, and to find where expression is given to it. Time and time again it has appeared to be defeated and it has gone underground. Hon. Members should read that wonderful book, "Revolution in Tanners Lane", with the scene depicted on the morrow of Waterloo when the Radicals were under extreme pressure, spied on and defeated; but they yet kept alive the spark which subsequently found expression in the trade union movement, in the Co-operative movement and in the Free Churches, and which burst into flame later in the century and brought the day of victory in 1905.

Let hon. Members, particularly those on this side of the Commitee, look around today and see where they can find any signs of a great radical tradition. It is even suspect in our own party. Where is the questing and questioning mind, the refusal to accept the orthodox? If hon. Members carry it very far they may find themselves—

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Godfrey Nicholson)

I think that the hon. Member should try to connect his speech a little more with the Amendment.

Mr. Wigg

I am not aware that I have departed from the Amendment, Mr. Nicholson. It is my submission that the Act which we are seeking to repeal was placed on the Statute Book because of the objection of the Government of the day to the radical opinions of the Reverend Horne Tooke. What I am advocating is the recreation of conditions in which we have men like the Reverend Horne Tooke and in which they can secure election to the House. If I am out of order in doing so, I have completely failed in my purpose in putting the Amendment on the Notice Paper.

I am seeking to repeal the Act of 1801. That Act was passed by an antiradical majority engaging in trickery, Popery and bare-faced cheating to misuse the facilities of the House to get a Measure through to exclude a man they did not want here and whose opinions they did not like. I like his opinions and that is why I am asking that we should have an opportunity of repealing the Act.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke was absolutely right in saying that the present situation is shot through with anomalies. It is not made very easy to deal with the matter because these anomalies exist. I agree that if the hon. Member for Dagenham and I had our way it is likely that other anomalies would remain, but we are here deciding a principle. If we can get a decision of the House, I hope by a free vote of the House, to repeal this Measure, we could with confidence leave it to the hon. Member for Basingstoke and his hon. Friends and the Attorney-General to do what we want between now and Report.

There is no great merit in this particular form of words, and it may well be that we have set about the problem in the wrong way. Neither my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham nor I are lawyers, but I made it plain in the first debate on 22nd July, 1955, again on the Second Reading of the first Bill and again on the Second Reading of this Bill that I should seek to secure this result, because I believe with passion that it is necessary not in the interests of the Church of England or of the Church of Rome, but in the interests of democracy, that we should give the opportunity to any man who feels that he has service to give to the community to find his way here. That is the principle upon which I stand.

When I first put the Amendment on the Notice Paper in connection with the original Bill, I very much hoped that I should be joined by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I always think of him as a good Radical. Recently, I re-read a book which I have read several times—a book by Miss Wedgwood on her great ancestor, who was a friend of mine, Josiah Wedgwood. It is called, "The Last of the Radicals." I always thought it was a slanderous title, because I thought that there were two more, the right hon. Member for South Shields and myself. In view of the fact that my right hon. Friend cannot support me there are now only one and a half left; I am the one and he is the half.

If Josiah Wedgwood were alive he would be supporting us today. I hope very much that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, even at this late hour, will support us. I am sure that he is in agreement with what we are seeking to do. He may differ from us in method and he may feel that there is a danger that the House would be overrun by priests. In the debate on Second Reading I drew attention to the illogicality of debarring priests of the Church of England and having the bench of bishops at the other end of the corridor. I gathered from my right hon. Friend that he thought it wrong that the bishops should be there, and there may be something in that.

I want to draw attention to the Report of the Select Committee on Clergy Disqualification, issued after the MacManaway episode had been settled. I thought that that Report was a very good one. I do not agree with its conclusions, but what interested me very much was something in which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), who was a member of that Committee, will also find interesting. When the Chairman, the present Lord Coleraine, received the Archbishop of Canterbury, as hon. Members will see from the Report, the Archbishop was greeted with words different from those used to the heads of the other religious orders. To the Archbishop of Canterbury it was said: Your Grace, we are very much obliged to you for coming to give us the benefit of your advice on this rather complicated problem … In no other case was the head of a community asked to give his advice. That seems to underline just where we have gone wrong. The House of Commons does not require the advice of the Archbishop of Canterbury on matters of this kind. The Archbishop of Canterbury can decide for himself and give such advice as he wants to the members of his own community. He can give advice to the Church of England, but I suggest that it was quite wrong for that Committee to seek advice from the Archbishop of Canterbury on whether or not priests of the Church of England should sit in the House of Commons.

It is not a spiritual matter and we shall go wrong if we try to see it in spiritual terms. It is a political matter and should be decided in political terms. Our community here will be richer and wiser if it rejects the advice of the Archbishop, if it rejects the advice of the Select Committee and takes the essentially radical step of giving the opportunity—if constituencies can be found—to elect to the House of Commons anyone who has sufficient votes. That should be the principle; if a man has the votes he should have the right to be elected.

Mr. E. Fletcher

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) as usual, has made a very striking speech. He has reiterated a great deal of what he said on Second Reading, but I am bound to say that I remain entirely unconvinced by what he or my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) said.

It is worth while reminding the Committee that this matter was very fully considered by the Select Committee. Those who have studied it will find that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham, who moved this Amendment, found himself in the Select Committee in a minority of one. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has pointed out, somewhat to his surprise, our right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was unable to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley said a great deal with which I profoundly agreed. A great deal, I thought, was irrelevant and, therefore, although I agree with a great deal of what he said in the more eloquent parts of his speech about radicalism, I hope that the Committee will not accept this Amendment. The present position, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) pointed out, has been justified in the past on a variety of grounds, mostly historical constitutional grounds. Today, I think it is much better to oppose this Amendment on severely practical grounds. I do not think that we are concerned today with the merits or demerits of Mr. Horne Tooke. A great many mistakes were made in those days.

6.45 p.m.

There are three practical reasons why we should be making a grave mistake if we sought, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham urged us to do, to reopen the whole question of clergy disqualification. First, there is no public demand for it at all. Secondly—this may appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale)—to reopen that question would inevitably arouse religious controversy, which, I think, would be a bad thing. Thirdly, it would inevitably reopen the whole question of the Establishment.

Mr. Wigg


Mr. Fletcher

My hon. Friend asks, "How?" It is obvious that if this Amendment were carried, and clergy of the Church of England were permitted to sit in this House, there would inevitably follow a demand for the removal of the bishops from another place. That may be a good or a bad thing, but in itself it would lead to the whole question of the Establishment. I happen to believe that the Establishment is a good thing, although others may think that it is a bad thing.

If the situation ever arose in which the House had to decide whether it is a good thing or a bad thing for the Establishment to continue, a great many matters would have to be taken into consideration, including the views of the Church of England, the views of other denominations and the views of our constituents. It seems a thoroughly bad thing, on a Bill of this kind, unnecessarily, and by a quite unnecessary, incidental Amendment, to involve an issue which inevitably would involve very great religious controversy, including the question of the Establishment. Whatever the merits or demerits of such a controversy might be if it were aroused, I cannot believe that it would be a good thing to start it.

If I required support for these reasons I would remind the Committee that this whole matter was very fully ventilated by the Select Committee, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley has reminded us, following the MacManaway episode. I had the honour to serve on that Committee. A great deal of evidence was taken as a result of the MacManaway case as to whether or not the time had arrived to review the whole question of clergy disqualification. Everyone admitted that there were certain anomalies. No one pretended that the present situation was in accordancewith complete logic. Nevertheless, that Committee came to the conclusion that it would be a great mistake to change the situation.

Mr. Parker

Until there was a general overhaul.

Mr. Fletcher

My hon. Friend is not quite right. What the Committee said was: Short of abolishing entirely all clerical disqualifications your Committee have considered whether it would be practicable by some limited action to deal with the anomalies which exist in the present law. Not only might any attempt to do so create new anomalies but it could scarcely be undertaken without opening up the whole question of the basis upon which the disqualification at present rests. In these circumstances, your Committee think that it would not be desirable to introduce any legislation to deal with the anomalies ahead of any general legislation which may hereafter be contemplated to deal with the qualification and disqualification of members generally. As my hon. Friend said, the Committee was, in fact, saying, "Let us not, at this stage, try to remove anomalies, because any attempt to do that would only create fresh anomalies".

On the question of whether all this disqualification should be removed or not, the Committee said: The proposals for amendment were advanced on grounds of principle rather than grounds of practical need. In quoting the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Committee said that: The Archbishop epitomised the views of most other witnesses when he said, 'If you finally reported that it would be much better to leave the thing alone, I should not doubt that you might well have taken the course of wisdom'. That was precisely the view to which I think the Committee unanimously came. Whatever may be the position in logic, whatever may be the theoretical argument that a particular clergyman in the Church of England may find a device whereby, by obtaining some preferment in Wales, he could get a constituency outside Wales to elect him to the House, and granted that that is a most unlikely situation to arise and if it did occur it might or might not be undesirable, the central fact remains that a great many people, both of the Roman Catholic faith and in the Anglican Confession, feel that there is some inconsistency and incompatibility between membership of the House of Commons and ordination in those communions.

At the same time, for reasons which I am bound to say it is very difficult to explain, many of us who hold that opinion happen to believe that there is nothing incongruous, inconsistent or undesirable in the fact that Nonconformist ministers do sit in the House of Commons. These are apparent anomalies which, although they do not seem to be defensible in logic, nevertheless exist.

There is the further fact that for centuries bishops have sat in the House of Lords. It seems to me to be very difficult to argue, as a matter of logic, that one should exclude priests of the Church of England from the House of Commons because if one admitted them they would become embroiled in party politics while at the same time defending, as I do, as long as the House of Lords exists, the constitutional position, which has lasted so long, whereby bishops sit in the House of Lords and do, in recent times at least, I think, manage not to embroil themselves in party politics.

I do not accept the criticism made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley in its modern context. Historically, I accept that for a very long time, certainly throughout the nineteenth century and possibly during the early decades of this century, most of the bishops of the Church of England favoured courses of reaction rather than courses of progress, but I myself doubt whether that is a criticism which could validly be made today.

Mr. Wigg

I agree that there are honourable exceptions to that. There was one very great exception, Archbishop Temple; but, by and large, the bench of bishops in the House of Lords supports the party opposite.

Mr. Fletcher

The House of Lords is a Tory body, anyhow. Even though that argument were valid, I do not think that it is relevant to this issue.

As I have said, the whole of this question was very fully ventilated by the Select Committee a very short time ago. For those reasons, it would, in my view, be a disservice to the Church, a disservice to the House of Commons and a disservice to the community if, by adopting the suggestions of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham, we were at this juncture to bring into the area of public controversy the whole subject of clerical disqualification, the relations of Church and State, and the position of the Establishment.

Mr. Hale

I wish to speak very briefly on one or two points with which I profoundly disagree. I disagree with almost every word said by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth), and with nearly every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), whose views I usually respect and for whom I have such regard.

First, the Select Committee is our wash-pot. It might be said that a Select Committee is a useful instrument for nominating people to report on a matter so that the House may consider their views; but to come to this Chamber and to say that because a Select Committee has decided this matter we all ought to take that view, and that that is an end of the matter, is really putting the position of Select Committees a great deal too high.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke appears to have a much more debased view of politics than I have. I think that politics are a matter of morals and ethics. I believe that we here give effect to morals and ethics as far as we can. I believe that if we sometimes set our ethical and moral targets very high we may have to approach them rather more slowly because of the difficulty of change. But to suggest that there is something corrupting in this Assembly, and that our deliberations are not ethical, is surely quite wrong.

I should like to have Church of England clergymen or any other clergymen coming here to tell me why it is right to fight wars. I should like to hear them discuss these vital and important topics of theology. The whole nation is concerned in the ethical implications of our views, so why should we exclude from this Assembly men trained in these matters?

Mr. Mellish

Would my hon. Friend allow me to say—

Mr. Hale

No, not at four minutes to seven. The House as a whole is to turn to the consideration of another matter at seven o'clock. It would mean my remaining here throughout that business before I could continue my remarks, or, during the three minutes and fifty-nine seconds which remain, concluding what I have to say. It is the latter which I propose to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) takes a much more rosy view of Mr. Horne Tooke than I do. This man, whom he describes as having guts in his belly—[Laughter.] That is the result of self-enforced brevity. My hon. Friend did say that the man had fire in his guts. He was a man who managed to inherit a fortune by attacking the Speaker of the House of Commons and holding up some essential private business. He then retired to Purley, or what was then Wimbledon, and wrote his "Diversions" for thirty years, rarely emerging from Wimbledon.

He was hardly a man whose passionate fire was noticed for the greater part of his life. He was a corrupt and dissolute clergyman who possessed a great deal of wit. Six months after his ordination, Mr. Horne Tooke was playing cards publicly on Sunday afternoon in the window-seat of his house near the main street. He wrote to Wilkes a scandalous and disgraceful letter, talking about the obscene touch of the bishop having been placed upon his head. He got himself elected to the House of Commons at the time when one got oneself elected by buying a seat.

At this point, my hon. Friend is on surer ground historically. It is true that no one objected to having a clergyman in the House. There had been half-a-dozen since the seventeenth century, and no one then objected. But no one was less of a clergyman than Mr. Home Tooke, who had now assumed the surname of his benefactor. Horne Tooke was tolerated for quite a number of months, until he began to attack the Establishment and committed the awful crime of attacking pensions, a subject which we were discussing on a previous Amendment. The Members of the House then rose in their fervour and decided that a clergyman of the Church of England could not sit in the House of Commons.

I should like to recall Mr. Horne Tooke's own speech, which, I think, would still be the best speech on this debate had he survived. He pointed out that he had done everything he could to cease being a clergyman. He said that he was not a clergyman, that he was not practising, that he had long resigned his benefice, and, for a long time, had ceased to perform any ecclesiastical function. He said that he was like the young girl who called at the Magdalen Hospital and demanded admittance. The curator said to the girl, "Are you of good character?" She said, "Yes". The curator asked her if she had committed any sin, to which she replied "No". He said, "Have you contracted any disease?", to which she replied, "No, I have not." "Then", said the curator, "I am sorry, but you do not qualify for admission. Go out and sin. Having lost your character and your health, come back, and you will be perfectly fit to be admitted to this place".

This is the doctrine which we are now being asked to accept today. We are asked to say that a clergyman who has been so dissolute that he ceases to be a clergyman can be admitted; or if we do not apply the moral test, we apply a geographical test and say that the clergyman who occupies a benefice—

It being Seven o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair, further Proceeding standing postponed until after the consideration of Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business).

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.